Twist and Snout 

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson wants you to feel pigs' pain.

Call Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson a pig and he's likely to thank you.

"We humans share a great deal in common with pigs," including some of what we consider our best qualities, "though people have been reluctant to acknowledge the similarities," he says. Like us, swine are sensitive, intelligent, and sociable. They also get a bad rap for being dirty slobs, but that's hogwash, insists the author of The Pig Who Sang to the Moon, a landmark new book about farm animals' emotions.

"Fastidiousness is one of a pig's most salient characteristics," says the ex-psychoanalyst and controversial Freud scholar, who points out that pigs never defecate near their sleeping or eating quarters, and roll in the mud only to protect their sensitive skin from sunburn and parasites. Most importantly, however, pigs have a tremendous capacity to love as well as to feel pain and sorrow.

Yet pigs are usually accorded little regard as to their thoughts and feelings because, with rare exception, all "farmed" animals -- which by Masson's definition also includes chickens, ducks, sheep, goats, and cows -- are basically raised to be tomorrow's entrées. And while many readers would rather deny the notion of a future nosh thinking or suffering, the former Berkeleyite begs to differ.

And he does so with authority. Having already written extensively about the emotions of other beasts in such works as Dogs Never Lie About Love, Dogs Have the Strangest Friends, When Elephants Weep, and The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats, Masson is a trained analyst and onetime member of the elite Freudian "inner circle" who ruffled academic feathers worldwide during the '80s with his outspoken denunciation of psychotherapy. Inspiration for this latest book came from, of all places, the story of Hansel and Gretel.

"When it comes to farmed animals, there is no fairy tale with a happy ending. Farm animals are all Hansel and Gretel, and we are the evil witch. Gretel we keep a little while to serve our needs, Hansel we fatten up to serve for dinner. This is no unconscious cannibalistic fantasy; this is the reality for animals raised for food. I don't think anyone has noticed this. Let me know if I am wrong. I am very curious."

So curious, in fact, that Masson spent two years traveling around the world to visit animal sanctuaries, small farms, and corporate-owned farm factories. In all of these, he looked not only into the eyes (and thus souls) of the creatures in residence there, but also into those of the people who held the animals' fates in their hands. The fact that he found tenderness and unconditional affection in the animals' eyes didn't shock him. Nor did the callousness of those running the farm factories; he had expected that. But the indifference on the part of the small farmers, who typically claim that their animals live "a good life," took him very much by surprise.

One visit really struck a chord. In New Zealand, where he now lives and where sheep outnumber humans eleven to one, Masson met David Oldfield, who shears the two thousand sheep on his farm twice a year, once in spring and once just before winter.

"But won't they be cold and uncomfortable?" Masson asked.

"Who cares?" Oldfield responded. "They are just sheep." (Masson aside: "And this from a man who liked them more than most!") Then Oldfield proceeded to explain how he castrated the animals and docked their tails -- all without anesthesia.

"Doesn't it hurt?" Masson queried.

Oldfield: "Sure."

Masson: "Don't you care?"

Oldfield: "No."

Masson details other abuse, particularly as regards those creatures who live in "artificial sheds, barns, or stables that resemble human prisons," are fed chemicals, and are denied any natural light. He also cites examples of many animals that mourn the loss of their young, which in farm environments are often taken away within two or three days of birth, and loudly protest the lack of bodily contact with others of their species -- most animals, the author points out, like to snuggle.

Yet the book eschews those really gory images so often vaunted by animal-rights activists, mainly because "I did not want to visit a slaughterhouse" -- which, of course, is where the worst offenses take place. "I just could not bear the thought. I should have, but I simply couldn't. Also, there are excellent books that already do this."

Masson admires those activists willing to go to jail to free abused animals, but "I am not really an activist. I just don't have the stomach for it," says the author, whose original career, before psychology, was as a college Sanskrit professor.

So how does he suggest we end the suffering caused by the animal-flesh peddlers he calls "greedmongers"? First and foremost, he says, through community -- between humans and animals as well as between humans and humans. As his book suggests, if we can eat animals we have come to know and love, what's to stop us from eventually eating each other?

Masson, who will be at Cody's Southside on November 22, also wishes the whole world's human population would become not just vegetarian but vegan. While this might seem unrealistic, given the fact that many impoverished people can feed their children only thanks to government vouchers for free milk, eggs, and cheese, Masson says knowledge is power.

"If people realized they could eat better, cheaper, and more healthily vegan, that would make a difference. Also, they may wake up one day and realize that the last thing they want in their stomach is a dead animal."


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